Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Never Dismiss Your Critique Partners Suggestions Out Of Hand

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Seven years ago, I hooked up with my very first critique partner. Her name is Sheryl Hart, and I met her through a critique partner match-up sponsored by Janice Hardy, who runs the Fiction University website. (An excellent source for writers, BTW!) Back then, my only story was my Hogwarts fanfiction, and it took me months to gather the nerve to ask a stranger to critique my fan fiction (as opposed to a “real” story). But she loved Harry Potter and was more than willing to read over the stuff I sent her, even though my writing was awful and I didn’t have a clue how to write fiction yet. 

She’s since moved on to other pursuits, but we exchanged a lot of chapters over those first couple of years, and my writing is much the better for it. And if you happened to have read the third chapter of my story (which I recently uploaded to Wattpad), you have Sheryl to thank for it. 

You see, that chapter was meant to be a scene where the reader learned some of the main character’s backstory, including hints as to why he’s afraid to return to Hogwarts. In the original version, he was just sitting on a bench at King’s Cross station, waiting for the Hogwarts Express, and thinking about all this stuff. Important information to be sure, but delivered in a rather mundane way. 

When I received the critique of this chapter from Sheryl, she’d highlighted one of my sentences, which read something like: He’d gone to St Mungo’s several times before, but after much poking and prodding, the healers had sent him home, saying there was nothing wrong with him. Her comment was simply: “I want to see this!” In other words, she wanted to see that scene played out instead of me simply telling the reader what had happened. 

My first response was to ignore her advice. Although I could see the entertainment value in such a scene, I thought the story setup was already running too long, and I was loath to make it even longer. Fortunately, I didn’t dismiss the idea entirely, and after a few days of mulling the idea over, it occurred to me that the required backstory could be delivered just as easily at St. Mungo’s as it had been in the train station. And with the added bonus of more conflict. So if you liked that chapter, Sheryl is the one to thank. 

The lesson is: never immediately dismiss any suggestion your critique partners give you. Even if it doesn’t seem right for your story, consider the idea with an open mind. It might just lead you to something even better.

Hogwarts and the New Headmaster

Friday, October 19, 2018

Distant versus Close POV in Fan Fiction

Decisions, decisions

One of the decisions I had to make when writing Hogwarts and the New Headmaster was the choice of voice. When I first started this project ten years ago, I scarcely knew what voice was, let alone what mine sounded like. It wasn't until I had written off and on for a year or two before I discovered my voice. It was then that I made the decision to try and match Rowling’s voice to the best of my ability, partly because I had discovered my natural voice was similar to that of Rowling’s (although not nearly as polished) and partly because fanfiction doesn’t feel real to me if doesn’t sound as if the original author wrote it. 

Once this initial decision was made, however, there were still more questions to answer. For example, Rowling’s style changed noticeably over the course of seven books, and I had to choose which book’s style I should emulate. 

Rowling wrote with a distant, at times almost omniscient, point of view. She would often describe things from the narrator’s POV as opposed to Harry’s. She’d tell us things Harry couldn’t know unless he was a mind-reader, she’d hint at future events, and occasionally come right out and say something that was obviously her speaking directly to the reader. I personally had no problem with this. I thought it was one of the more endearing aspects of the Harry Potter books, and from what I understand, the use of a distant voice was the norm for British middle grade books. 

As the series progressed, however, she began moving away from this style a little (at her editors’ suggestions?). She still maintained a distant third person POV, but she cut back on the author intrusions. And instead of telling us things Harry couldn’t really know, she resorted to the use of filter words like “seemed” and “appeared” to tell the reader what she wanted them to know. 

For example, instead of writing:

Firenze turned his head very slowly to face Dean, who realized at once that he had said something very offensive.”

which suggests Harry must have read Dean’s mind in order to know what he had realized, she would now write:

Firenze turned his head very slowly to face Dean, who seemed to realize at once that he had said something very offensive.” 

The addition of “seemed to” makes it sound more like Harry’s guess as opposed to actual knowledge. It wasn’t a perfect solution—“seemed” and “appeared” began popping up everywhere in her later books—but it did the job. 

I eventually chose the fourth book as the style to match. It bridged the gap between her earlier middle grade style and her later urban fantasy voice. I thought that would be the end of my decision-making, but it wasn’t. While I was in the process of learning about how to write fiction, it seemed every article I came across on POV insisted that today’s readers wanted a close POV. The closer the better. Distant POV was so last millennium, they said. They even went so far as to say that the Harry Potter books, if released today, wouldn’t do nearly as well. 

I never quite believed that. As I’ve already said, I thought her storyteller voice was one of the charms of her books. But after hearing the same advice spouted over and over again, I began to believe it. And over time, I began moving Hogwarts and the New Headmaster toward a closer POV, assuming that’s what the readers would want. 

Now I’m not so sure. 

My critique partners and I have debated the question of whether I should stay with Rowling’s distant style or tighten it up for today’s audiences. I don’t think we’ve come to a firm answer yet, but I find myself leaning toward the conclusion that readers who enjoy reading Harry Potter fan fiction might prefer the original distant POV. 

So what do you think? Should I stay with the distant POV of Rowling or shift it to close POV for today's readers?


BTW, the second chapter of Hogwarts and the New Headmaster is now up on Wattpad.

Friday, October 12, 2018

On Wattpad and Book Covers


Today, after working on the story for the last ten years, I uploaded the first chapter of my Hogwarts fanfic to Wattpad.  Here's the link if you're interested in reading it. This is the first and only story I’ve ever finished, so this is a big deal for me. Uploading my words to the world is a big step, so I want to get it right the first time. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks tweaking this chapter, mostly in response to my critique partners’ suggestions. I’ve done so much tweaking that it’s probably a good thing I set a hard deadline for uploading. Otherwise, I’d tweak the darn thing forever. 

A couple of weeks ago, I figured uploading to Wattpad would be easy. I already had an account. All I had to do was upload my words, right? 

Wrong. Turns out I needed a story description, a bio, and a cover. The description and bio didn’t take long, but the cover was another matter. Now even though this story is fan fiction, I’d always planned to get a cover. My diabolical plan, once the entire story had been uploaded, was to combine the chapters into an ebook (good practice for when I eventually publish my urban fantasy), but for that you need a cover. Heck, I’ll probably make a print version at some point too, just so I can print a few copies to stick on my bookshelves. Hey, I slaved over this story for ten years. I deserve some sort of memento. 

But it never occurred to me that I’d need a cover for uploading to Wattpad. To be honest, it isn’t required, but everything I’ve read suggests that more people will read your story if you have one. I contacted a local illustrator that I’d met many years ago at a SCBWI function, but she has since become successful enough her prices were more than my wife I was willing to spend on a fan fiction story. 

My wife searched the internet for inexpensive covers and she found a great premade one that I ended up purchasing. So now I get to do something I’ve been watching you guys do for years. A cover reveal! 

Ta Daaa!
Cover Design by Consuelo Parra

There’s still a lot of work to do over the coming months. The book has thirty chapters and they all need more work before they’re of uploadable quality, but it’ll be an exciting time. I may find myself hard pressed to keep up with submitting my “real” story to my critique groups, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to write “The End” on this one. 

Ten years is a long time to work on a story. I hope my next story doesn’t take nearly as long.

Hogwarts and the New Headmaster

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Releasing My Very First Story Into the Wild

Today is October's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because in nine days, I’ll begin uploading my Hogwarts fan fiction story to Wattpad, one chapter at a time. 

This day has been a long time coming. Ten years ago, I finished the seventh and last Harry Potter book and wondered how Rowling might go about writing another series in her universe. Ideas kept popping into my head, so many that I knew if I didn’t jot them down on paper I’d forget them. Sentences turned into paragraphs, which turned into pages, which turned into chapters. And suddenly, a guy who’d avoided writing most of his life discovered that writing fiction could be fun. 

So here I am today, after learning the rules of writing, after countless rewrites where I applied those rules of writing to the dreck I first scrawled on paper, after participating in multiple critique groups, after beta reading for countless other authors, after giving several presentations on story structure to local writing groups, after being a part of IWSG for years (#17 on the list and eyeing #16 – sorry Michelle), after watching everyone else turn out book after book, I’m finally ready to write “The End” and release my words into the wild. 

Technically, the story isn’t quite finished. I’m in the middle of revisions, and the early chapters are still being critiqued by a few writer friends, so I may be hard pressed to keep up with the one chapter a week schedule I'm setting myself, but I’ve set a date for the 12th and I’m sticking to it. 

You might wonder why I’m not pushing the launch date back a month or two in order to finish polishing the story. The short answer is that ten years is long enough. If I don’t push myself now, I’ll never finish it. Besides, the 12th is my birthday and uploading the first chapter of my story on that day seems like the perfect way to celebrate. 

So if any of you enjoy Harry Potter fan fiction and don’t mind all new characters, hop on over to Wattpad next weekend and check out Hogwarts and the New Headmaster. Comments and suggestions will be most welcome. Remember, this story has been and will continue to be a learning experience for me.

I’ll still be working on my urban fantasy in the meantime, of course, but my main focus will be on the fanfic. This is the story that got me into writing in the first place. This is the story that taught me about writing.  

And you never forget your first story. 

Don’t forget to stop by the other co-hosts this month: Dolorah@Book Lover, Christopher D. Votey, and Tanya Miranda